This Article is From Apr 23, 2015

'I Apologise.' Ashutosh Tells AAP's Side of the Story on Farmer's Death at Rally

Yes, I did say, "If something like this happened in the future I would ask Arvind to climb the trees and save the person". This became a big controversy and it ran as a headline on TV channels. This was an answer to a question which we were asked with a lot of contempt and sarcasm. A reporter had asked if Arvind could climb on an electricity pole, why could he not do so this time to save the farmer on the tree. I lost my cool and responded in a manner which I later thought was offensive and insensitive.

Believe me, it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life and for all of us who were present at the rally. We all were very, very upset. It was very disturbing. And when we were told that TV channels had been relentlessly running how "insensitive" we all were, as we did not stop the rally after the accident happened, we did not know how to respond. This was the last thing we expected from the media. We were called all kinds of names. We were branded insensitive, shameless, devoid of an iota of humanity etc. We were shocked. What crime had we committed to deserve this?

It was important for us to get back to the media with our side of the story.  Sanjay Singh, Kumar Vishwas and I held a press conference in North Avenue. Kumar and Sanjay narrated the incident as it happened. Then I spoke and was asked that question above. I said what I should never have. I should have known, being a journalist myself, that it would be lapped up by TV channels and a serious issue would get quite another colour. That is exactly what happened.

I am not blaming the media, but I do think the coverage should have been a lot more sensitive. A man had died in the most unfortunate manner, but to put the blame on AAP and call us names was way off the mark. I was there on the dais. I was sitting slightly towards the back. Suddenly, I saw Kumar Vishwas get up and say that a man had climbed up a tree. He announced that if the man had issues or problems then he should come down and meet the Chief Minister. It would be sorted out.

When he got no response, Kumar requested the policemen standing near the tree to intervene. The request was made several times, but the policemen showed no signs of responding. Sanjay Singh also requested the police and when they did not move, our volunteers were asked to help. Four AAP volunteers rushed to the tree. They climbed up, tried getting close to the farmer and then suddenly we heard a commotion and realised that he had hung himself.

The policemen were still inert. Volunteers stood under the tree, holding an open sheet. The man fell on the sheet. Our volunteers immediately rushed him to the hospital. Two of our MLAs, who are attached to the health ministry, also went along to the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital.

The police response was baffling. It was a rally in which the Chief Minister of Delhi was taking part. As per protocol, a certain minimum arrangement was required. In the presence of the CM, repeated requests were made to the policemen to help get that man down from the tree. They are a trained force. They are professionally trained to deal with such situations but they did nothing.

In the absence of any action from them, our volunteers tried to save the man. These volunteers were not trained. They tried their level best, but unfortunately that was not enough. May I ask, is it not the duty of the police to respond to situations like these? Why did they not act despite the presence of the Delhi CM? Would they have done the same if Delhi was a full state and the police was working under the CM? Was it not open defiance by a disciplined force? Did they have some instructions from their higher ups?

Some people under the tree had been disturbing the rally right from when it began. When we got to know that a man had climbed up the tree, we initially thought it was one of them - a group of protesting temporary teachers - who was trying to draw attention. Even when the farmer fell on the sheet held below, we thought it was one of the teachers.

We got to know from the media that it was a farmer from the Dausa district of Rajasthan, who had three children and his crop had failed due to unseasonal rains. We were also told that he shouted anti-Modi slogans while on the tree. When he was taken to hospital, we were informed that he had suffered injuries but was alive. The information about his death came to us through the media. As we got the information we stopped the rally. But by then TV channels were asking:

1. Why didn't Arvind say anything to console Gajendra?

2. Why did Arvind not go in the crowd and try to save him?

3. Why did the rally continue after the incident?

Believe me, I am not making excuses. Kumar and Sanjay had taken the control of the stage and they constantly requested the police to save him. Both of them are top leaders of the party and in that commotion it did not occur to us that we should include Arvind and that he should speak. All his life Arvind has fought for the downtrodden. And now to assume he deliberately did not speak to Gajendra out of arrogance is not right.

May be Arvind going into the crowd to talk to him and counsel him could have been another step to resolve that crisis. But we thought that it might create panic and lead to a stampede. That would have been worse.

The rally continued because we were continuously under the impression that he had suffered injuries, but he was alive. And when we got the information about his death, we immediately stopped the rally. Arvind and Manish immediately went to the hospital.

In hindsight, may be Arvind could have made an appeal to Gajendra; he could have gone into the crowd and tried to talk to him; he could have stopped the rally. It might be an error of judgment on our part for which we should be criticised severely, but to think that we have become "arrogant" and "insensitive" is not right. Why would we not want him saved? We don't do that kind of politics.

It was AAP that had announced a payment of Rs. 20,000 per acre as compensation to farmers who had suffered crop loss due to rain. This is the highest in the country. It was AAP that gave one crore to each policeman who died on duty. Otherwise their families only got a sewing machine as compensation. AAP believes in a different kind of politics and people gave us a massive mandate in Delhi as people are fed up with Machiavellian politics. We are aware of our responsibilities and also of the trust which people have reposed in us.

Today we are very sad and disturbed that we could not save the farmer's life. I can't ever forgive myself, but let me also underline the fact that in the last three months, more than 600 farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra and many more in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, these deaths could not become a serious subject of debate for TV channels. And despite these suicides, the Modi government is still adamant about replacing a farmer friendly land acquisition bill with a draconian one. Is there any lesson for us?

Don't you think that society at large has to introspect why even after 68 years of Independence farmers are still committing suicide? Why is this happening in a country which till very recently thought to be primarily an agrarian society? I have learnt my lesson and it was for this reason that I APOLOGISE for my statement and say SORRY.

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014. The former journalist took on former Union minister Kapil Sibal and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in the national election from Chandni Chowk in Delhi.)

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